Urban Xchange originated from the intention of cultivating cultural exchange between nations in the name of art. While we are continuing in the line of international exchanges, for this year, we have also developed a project namely to start a conversation amongst generations. Artisans project is a project depicting collaborations between contemporary artists and traditional artisans.

Urban Xchange 2015 is set in Penang, a young city caught up in a crossroads between heritage and modernity. George Town, the heart and soul of Penang, comes from a rich heritage of traditions. A huge contribution to its heritage comes from a long line of artisanal trades. Trades that marked Penang as one of the main trading ports in the world from the 18th till 20th century. From silversmiths and anchor-makers to rattan weavers and signboard engravers. These livelihoods were the very basis of Penang’s culture and identity.

As time does what it does best, change is inevitable and the modernity it brings is gradually putting these trades to a stop. For Artisans project, what we are hoping is not a revival of the traditional trades. Rather to preserve it and to educate the younger generation to value their heritage. Continuous innovation and adaptation are necessary in life. And that is what this project is about. By abandoning a trade, we are giving up on our history. However, we can be innovative and still adapt the traditional skills in our modern everyday lives.

For this project, seven contemporary artists and designers have been paired up with an artisan from a different traditional skill each to create or rather recreate an art product.

The seven contemporaries are Ownly Penang, a visual collective who works predominantly with photoghraphy and video, Jamie Oon Muxian, an interior and jewelry designer, Ammar Khalifa, a graphic illustrator, Falah Naim, a graphic designer, Centaur, a game designer, Low Chee Peng a contemporary sculptor and Annabelle Ng, a experimental fine artist. They will each be paired with an artisan of a traditional skill; a paper effigy maker, rattan weaver, signboard carver, kolam maker, mahjong tiles maker, anchor maker, and batik maker respectively to create an artwork or product design of their own which reflects the traditional skill but in a contemporary produce.

The idea behind this project is to rebrand the way people see traditional crafts as irrelevant to contemporary life. We also hope to inspire local artists and designers to explore the crafts that our culture has to offer.

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Annabelle Ng